In open letter, more than 200 doctors urge Johnson County schools to bring back universal masking

SM South choir students

More than 200 Johnson County health care providers are asking county and school district leaders to implement universal masking at schools until the county's positivity rate decreases to 5% or less. Above, Shawnee Mission South High School students in class. File photo.

More than 200 local health professionals are asking Johnson County commissioners and school districts to reimplement universal masking rules for the new semester.

In an open letter sent the county commission and district leaders Monday, the health care providers urge county and school district leaders to keep all students and staff in masks until the county “positivity rate decreases to 5% or less.”

“We are a group of pediatricians, family doctors, specialists, including pulmonologists, pathologists, and ER doctors who have been on the front lines of COVID-19 for nearly two years. We are also concerned parents” the letter says. “During the week of December 24, 2021, the United States shattered records at least four times for its seven-day average of new daily COVID cases. Now is not the time to let our guard down.”

According to the county’s online COVID-19 dashboard, Johnson County’s positivity rate is 21.5%, the highest it’s been since the start of the pandemic nearly two years ago. The last time the county was below 5% was early November.

The letter was sent hours before the Shawnee Mission school board was set Monday evening to hold a special meeting to discuss the district’s COVID-19 mitigation plan for the coming semester. (The board, later Monday night, voted to keep in place the district’s current policy of making masks optional in middle and high schools.)

That plan currently includes optional masks for middle and high school students when they return to in-person classes on Wednesday, Jan. 5.

Other Johnson County districts, including USD 232 in De Soto and Blue Valley, have had optional mask rules in high schools for weeks now.

Many of the same health care providers sent a similar letter at the beginning of the 2021-22 school year calling for a K-12 mask mandate in Blue Valley School District — but this time, the letter is addressed to Johnson County commissioners and school district leaders and board members more generally.

“With the tidal wave of Omicron hitting Johnson County, and no virtual education option, we are now urging all districts as well as the JoCo BOCC to think about what is at stake before you reconvene in January — the collapse of our education and healthcare systems,” the letter says. .

On Thursday, the board of county commissioners is set to discuss a countywide public health order that requires masking in all schools serving up to and including 7th grade.

An agenda for that meeting has not yet been published, and it’s unclear if the board will consider ending the order outright.

A motion to end the school mask order put forward by Commissioner Charlotte O’Hara at the board’s final meeting of 2021 in December failed by a 5-2 vote.

The doctors’ letter Monday says consideration of a short-term mask mandate “will significantly impact the entire Johnson County community — from students, teachers, staff, and administrators to parents and frontline workers.”

The letter points out that the Omicron variant is “up to 4x more contagious than Delta” and that “well-fitted masks are one of the easiest ways to slow the spread.”

“Without protecting this crucial mitigation strategy, more front line healthcare workers will be home with their sick children and family members and not working in area hospitals and clinics,” the letter reads. “While we are home taking care of our families, who will take care of your injuries, heart attacks and strokes?”

Read the full letter below:

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